Operation Market Garden (September 17, 1944–September 25, 1944) was an Allied military operation fought in the Netherlands and Germany in World War II. It made large-scale use of airborne forces. Its tactical objectives were to secure a series of bridges over the main rivers of the German-occupied Netherlands to allow rapid advance by armored units. The strategic purpose was to allow an Allied crossing of the Rhine river, the last major natural barrier to an advance into Germany. The planned rapid advance from the Dutch-Belgian border into northern Germany, across the Maas (Meuse) and two arms of the Rhine (the Waal and the Lower Rhine), would have outflanked the Siegfried Line and made possible an encirclement of the Ruhr Area, Germany's industrial heartland.
The operation was initially successful with the capture of the Waal bridge at Nijmegen on September 20, but it was a failure overall since the planned Allied advance across the Rhine at Arnhem had to be abandoned. The British 1st Airborne Division did not secure the bridge at Arnhem, and although they managed to hold out near the bridge far longer than planned, the British XXX Corps failed to relieve them. The Rhine remained a barrier to the Allied advance until the offensives at Remagen, Oppenheim, Rees and Wesel in March 1945. Due to the Allied defeat at Arnhem, the north of the Netherlands could not be liberated before winter and the Hongerwinter ('Hungerwinter') took tens of thousands of lives, particularly in the cities of the Randstad area.
On 4 September1944 supply shortages halted the Allied advance. Supply sources were limited to the shallow docks built on the original invasion beaches and the nearby deepwater port of Cherbourg at the tip of the Cotentin peninsula. The massive port of Antwerp lay intact in British hands, but the Scheldt estuary leading to it was still under German control. Other important ports on the English Channel coast such as Dunkirk remained in German hands until May 1945. Although over-the-beach supply operations outperformed expectations and enough supplies were present on the continent to support Allied operations, a shortage of transport to move these supplies forward created a bottleneck. At the beginning of September, Cherbourg had 70,000 tons of stockpiled supplies but no transport to move them. Regional railway transport was non-existent because of the pre-invasion airstrikes; train movement out of Normandy did not resume until August 30 and was very limited. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that 1,400 British three-ton trucks were found to be useless because of faulty pistons in their engines — they could have moved 800 tons per day, enough for two divisions. In an attempt to address this acute shortage of transport, three newly-arrived U.S. infantry divisions (the 26th, 95th, and 104th) were stripped of their trucks in order to supply Montgomery's British 21st Army Group to allow Operation Market Garden to proceed. Similarly, the heavy artillery units of General Omar Bradley's US 12th Army Group were left west of the Seine, freeing their trucks to move supplies for other units. Organization of the Red Ball Express did much to lessen the impact of the transport shortage, but this ad hoc operation could not solve the problem.
Following the British and Canadian breakout from Caen and the closure of the Falaise pocket, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, favoured a broad advance eastwards to the Rhine across a wide front, combined with capture and clearance of the Channel ports and Antwerp. This strategy was contested by the field commanders, especially Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery who commanded the British 21st Army Group in the north, and General George Patton, commander of the US 3rd Army in the south. Both favored rapid, concentrated thrusts across the Rhine in their own sectors. With the supply situation deteriorating in early September, a broad advance became impossible; there were not enough supplies moving forward to keep all of the armies in "combat supply".
Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks, commander of the XXX Corps that captured Antwerp, explained in his autobiography "A Full Life" how the Allies were crippled by a strategic error in the first days of September. It was assumed that the port of Antwerp would become usable as soon as the city had been captured; not one Allied commander realised that the Scheldt estuary leading to the port was mined and that the Germans had dug in on its banks, so preventing use of the port. Lieutenant-General Horrocks states that the correct action would have been to bypass Antwerp on 3–4 September and drive north-west to Woensdrecht, so cutting off the Beveland isthmus, trapping the German 15th Army and allowing the Scheldt to be cleared for Allied shipping. The Allied failure to do this on 4 September allowed the Germans a two week respite, during which over 60,000 soldiers of the German 15th Army withdrew from Flanders and escaped across the Beveland isthmus into the Netherlands. The continued closure of the Scheldt hugely exacerbated the Allies' supply problem.
Most Allied commanders favored pursuit of the seemingly shattered German armies. Omar Bradley (as well as his subordinate George S. Patton) and Montgomery both requested priority on supplies in order to cross the River Rhine in a single decisive thrust, instead of clearing the Scheldt to open the port of Antwerp. Bradley and Patton favoured an attack east to take the city of Metz and into the industrial area of the Saarland, requiring passage of the Siegfried Line to the heavily defended Rhine. Bradley suggested that Allied air transport should continue to be used to move supplies to the front, able to keep the front lines moving regardless of the existing problems to the rear. Bradley was indulgent with respect to Patton's requests, interpreting Eisenhower's orders in a manner that gave Patton free rein. On 5 September Bradley allowed Patton's US 3rd Army to advance to the Moselle, a move that stretched the US 1st Army, which was trying to cover the gap between Montgomery's 21st Army Group and the US 3rd Army.
Montgomery initially suggested Operation Comet, a limited airborne coup de main to seize the bridge in Arnhem on September 7, but weather postponements and a fluid enemy situation made it evident that Arnhem was too distant a target for an unsupported airborne attack. Comet was replaced by a more ambitious plan to bypass the Siegfried Line, cross the Rhine with large-scale forces, and trap the German 15th Army between Arnhem and the shores of the IJsselmeer: Operation Market Garden. On 10 September Lieutenant-General Miles Dempsey, commander of the British Second Army under Montgomery, told Montgomery that he had doubts about this plan, and that he instead favored a strike north-eastwards between the Reichswald and the Ruhr to Wesel. Montgomery replied that he had just received a signal from London that something must be done to neutralise the V-2 launch sites around the Hague, which were bombarding London and Antwerp, and that the plan must therefore proceed. Furthermore, operations would be within range of aircraft flying from English bases, it would circumvent the strong defences of the Siegfried Line by hooking around its northern end, and a deep northern penetration would take the Germans by surprise. However, the plan had several problems. It required the Second Army to drive northwards through terrain with numerous water obstacles to cross, and General Bradley pointed out that it would open a dangerous gap to the south between the 21st Army Group and the US 1st Army. Additionally, it entailed an armored advance up a single narrow road, built like a causeway with low-lying polder on both sides, restricting supply lines and the ability to use numerical strength to full advantage.
After meeting Lieutenant-General Dempsey, Montgomery flew to Brussels that afternoon (10 September) to meet Eisenhower. Supply difficulties were so severe that tank transporters were being used to ferry parts of portable runways and basic supplies. Second Army did not even have use of its heavy artillery and anti-aircraft guns. Montgomery requested Eisenhower's Chief Administrative Officer to leave the meeting, but insisted on his own remaining. He then tore a file of Eisenhower's messages to shreds in front of him, and argued for a concentrated northern thrust, simultaneously demanding priority of supply. Eisenhower, convinced that German forces faced imminent collapse, was equally adamant that advance on a broad front was correct. However, he consented to Operation Market Garden, giving it "limited priority" in terms of supplies, but insisted that he could not reduce support for the advance to the Saar. In vain, Montgomery complained about this to the Vice-Chief of the Imperial General Staff in London. For their part, the American commanders were irritated by the priority accorded to the 21st Army Group.
Meanwhile General Patton had advanced so far that it became clear to Lieutenant-General Dempsey that the US 1st Army would not be able to cover the gap once Market Garden was launched. Hence the British VIII Corps would have to be detached from the main striking force to cover the south-eastern flank. There was not enough transport immediately available to move VIII Corps, necessitating a four day delay until 21 September. On 11 September Montgomery brought this argument to bear on Eisenhower, and on 12 September the Americans promised to give the British many trucks and 1,000 tons of their own supplies each day. Both Montgomery and Bradley assumed that this meant that Eisenhower had accepted Montgomery's demand for a single concentrated, northern thrust to Berlin.
General Bradley thought that the advance of the US 3rd Army under General Patton was thus at risk, and warned Patton. Patton decided to advance immediately beyond the Moselle and become so engaged with the enemy that the fight could not be broken off, forcing supplies to be diverted south. Patton was told to conduct "a continuous reconnaissance", it being understood that this meant "unrelenting attack". Indeed, the US 12th Army Group's supplies, which Eisenhower had intended to divert to Montgomery, continued to be supplied to the US 1st Army and Patton's 3rd Army. Thus the supply situation leading up to Operation Market Garden was extraordinarily difficult. Eisenhower's decision to launch Market Garden was mostly influenced by his desire to keep the retreating Germans under pressure. However, General Eisenhower was also under pressure from the U.S. to use the Airborne Army as soon as possible. After Normandy the airborne forces had been withdrawn to reform in England, forming the First Allied Airborne Army of two British and three U.S. airborne divisions, and a Polish brigade. After Normandy, plans for 18 airborne operations had been drafted, but then cancelled at short notice, mostly when Allied ground forces overran the intended drop zones.
The plan of action consisted of two operations:
Highway 69 (later nicknamed "Hell's Highway") leading through the planned route was two lanes wide, generally raised above the surrounding flat terrain of polder. The ground on either side of the highway was too soft to support tactical vehicle movement.
A single 100 meter (100 yards) high hill, the Groesbeek ridge, lay in the 82nd Airborne's zone. Seizure and defence of this hill was considered vital to holding the highway bridges.
Market would employ three of the five divisions of the First Allied Airborne Army. The U.S. 101st Airborne Division, under Major General Maxwell D. Taylor, would drop in two locations just north of XXX Corps to take the bridges northwest of Eindhoven at Son and Veghel. The 82nd Airborne Division, under Brigadier General James M. Gavin, would drop northeast of them to take the bridges at Grave and Nijmegen, and the British 1st Airborne Division, under Major-General Roy Urquhart, and the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade would drop at the extreme north end of the route, to take the road bridge at Arnhem and rail bridge at Oosterbeek.
The First Allied Airborne Army had been created on August 16 as the end result of British requests for a coordinated headquarters for airborne operations, a concept approved by General Eisenhower on June 20. The British had strongly hinted that a British officer—Lieutenant-General Frederick Browning in particular—be appointed its commander. Since the bulk of both troops and aircraft were American, however, a USAAF officer, Major General Lewis H. Brereton, was named by Eisenhower on July 16 and appointed by SHAEF on August 2. Brereton had no experience in airborne operations but had extensive command experience at the air force level in several theatres, most recently as commander of Ninth Air Force, which gave him a working knowledge of the operations of IX Troop Carrier Command.
Market would be the largest airborne operation in history, delivering over 34,600 men of the 101st, 82nd, 1st Airborne Divisions and the Polish Brigade. 14,589 troops were landed by glider and 20,011 by parachute. Gliders also brought in 1,736 vehicles and 263 artillery pieces. 3,342 tons of ammunition and other supplies were brought in by glider and parachute drop. To deliver its 36 battalions of airborne infantry and their support troops to the continent, the First Allied Airborne Army had under its operational control the 14 groups of IX Troop Carrier Command, and after August 31, the 16 squadrons of both 38 Group (an organization of converted bombers providing support to resistance groups) and a transport formation, 46 Group.
The combined force had available 1,438 C-47/Dakota transports (1,274 USAAF and 164 RAF) and 321 converted RAF bombers. The Allied glider force had been rebuilt after Normandy until by September 16 it numbered 2,160 CG-4A Waco gliders, 916 Airspeed Horsas (812 RAF and 104 US Army), and 64 General Aircraft Hamilcars. However the U.S. had only 2,060 glider pilots available, so that none of its gliders would have a co-pilot but would instead carry an extra passenger.
Because the C-47s served as both paratrooper transports and glider tugs, and because IX Troop Carrier Command would provide all the transports for both British parachute brigades, this massive force could deliver only 60% of the ground forces in a single lift. This limitation was the primary factor in the decision to split the troop lift schedule into successive days. Ninety percent of the USAAF transports on the first day would drop parachute troops, with the same proportion towing gliders on the second day (the RAF transports were almost entirely used for glider operations).
Because September 17 was on a dark moon, and in the days following it, the new moon did not rise until dawn, the drops had to be made by daylight. (Airborne doctrine prohibited large scale operations in the absence of all light.) The risk of Luftwaffe interception was judged small, given the crushing air superiority of Allied fighters, but strong concerns existed about the increasing number of flak units in the Netherlands, especially around Arnhem. General Brereton's experience with tactical air operations judged that flak suppression would be sufficient to permit the troop carriers to operate without prohibitive loss. Further, the invasion of Southern France had demonstrated that large scale daylight airborne operations were feasible.
Daylight operations, in contrast to those in Sicily and Normandy, would have much greater navigational accuracy and time-compression of succeeding waves of aircraft, tripling the number of troops that could be delivered per hour. The time required to assemble airborne units on the drop zone after landing would be reduced by two-thirds.
Four days was a long time for an airborne force to fight unsupported. In addition the Allied paratroopers lacked adequate anti-tank weapons. Even so, before Operation Market Garden started it seemed to the Allied high command that the German resistance had broken. Most of the German 15th Army in the area appeared to be fleeing from the Canadians and they were known to have no Panzergruppen. It was thought that XXX Corps would face limited resistance on their route up highway 69 and little armour. Meanwhile, the German defenders would be spread out over 100 km (60 miles) trying to contain the pockets of airborne forces, from the Second Army in the south to Arnhem in the north.
The arrival of Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt as Wehrmacht Commander-in-Chief West in early September also helped stabilize the German front. Rundstedt, who replaced Field Marshal Walter Model, was generally detested by Hitler but well-respected by his troops, whom he had back in fighting condition within the week. Rundstedt immediately began to plan a defence against what Wehrmacht intelligence said were 60 Allied divisions at full strength, however Eisenhower had only 49 divisions.
Colonel General Kurt Student, the Wehrmacht's airborne pioneer, was put in command of what was euphemistically called the 'First Parachute Army'. The 3,000 paratroopers, scattered across the Reich, were likely the only combat-ready reserve forces in Germany at the time. When these troops reached the Albert Canal, a Belgian waterway near the Dutch border which stood in the path of the Allied advance towards Berlin, they were dismayed to realise that at the canal Field-Marshal Model's "New German Line" was virtually non-existent, lacking any trenches or fortifications. Student's men "frantically" began preparing a defence along the southern edge of the canal, placing demolition charges to destroy the bridges that would aid the Allied march towards Berlin. Though stymied by the superior natural inclination of the northern side, Student later marvelled in his memoirs at the speed and precision with which the paratroopers worked.
Lieutenant General Kurt Chill, commanding the shattered 85th Division, established 'reception stations' at key bridge crossings in the Netherlands. Chill's actions gathered a miscellany of troops from various broken units into a semblance of military order, allowing Student to organize a defensive line. The German 719th Infantry Division was added to this force.
A coincidence had resulted in German Panzer forces being sent to the Arnhem area on 4 September. Rundstedt and his generals had agreed that Eisenhower would favour Patton in the anticipated offensive. Accordingly, in one of his final orders as Commander-in-Chief West, Model had ordered the II SS Panzer Corps, including the 9th SS and 10th SS Panzer divisions under the command of Lieutenant General Wilhelm Bittrich, to rest and refit in a "safe" area. The place chosen happened to be the area around Arnhem with the 9th SS scattered in various towns and villages to the north of the city and the 10th SS stationed 15 km (9 miles) further to the east.
Both SS divisions were very weak. Their combined strength amounted to no more than 7,000 men, enough for approximately one division. They retained few heavy weapons following the retreat from Normandy. On the eve of the battle, the 9th SS Panzer regiment had no tanks, the 9th SS Artillery regiment based in Dieren had no guns, and neither the 19th nor 20th SS Panzer Grenadier regiments based in Zutphen and Rheden respectively, had any heavy weapons. Nevertheless the fortuitous selection of Arnhem as a rest area meant that there were an additional 3,000 combat-ready troops available to fight the British airborne drop and at least a few serviceable tanks, armoured cars, and assault guns.
IX Troop Carrier Command's transport aircraft had both to tow gliders and drop paratroopers, duties that could not be performed simultaneously. Although every division commander requested two drops the first day, Brereton's staff scheduled only one lift based on the need to prepare for the first drop by bombarding German flak positions for half a day, and a weather forecast on the afternoon of September 16, (which soon proved erroneous), that the area would have clear conditions for four days, so allowing drops on these days.
The first day's lift involved all the U.S. parachute regiments but only half the British parachute troops, none of the Polish, and only three battalions of glider troops. Virtually no combat support units were delivered on D-day. A precarious timetable at the mercy of the weather resulted in the 101st Airborne Division being without its artillery for two days, the 82nd Airborne its artillery for a day and its glider infantry regiment for four days, and the British 1st Airborne division its fourth brigade until the fifth day. The longer the time required to complete the air drops, the longer each division had to devote forces to defending the drop and landing zones, weakening their offensive power.
Drop Zone selection was poor, particularly at Arnhem. The RAF coordinator refused to drop near the town on the north side of the target bridge because of flak guns at Deelen. Another suitable drop zone just to the south of the bridge was rejected because it was thought to be too marshy for landing gliders containing the force's heavier equipment. The inexperienced airborne commanders deferred to the RAF's concerns, and thus the three principal landing and drop zones were 8-10 km (5-6 miles) from the bridge, with the fourth being 13 km (8 miles) away.
Since the division would arrive over two days, the forces landing on the first day would have to take the bridge while simultaneously holding the drop zones, ensuring the force would be divided for over 24 hours. Realizing the seriousness of the problem, the plan was then hastily changed to use a small force of machine-gun equipped jeeps to seize the bridge in a coup de main with three battalions following on foot. A fourth battalion would hold the drop zones with the glider pilots until the final two lifts arrived.
After one week preparations were declared complete; by comparison the planning and training for the airborne drops at Sicily and Normandy had taken months. One United States Air Force historian noted that Market was the only large airborne operation of World War II in which the USAAF "had no training program, no rehearsals, almost no exercises, and a...low level of tactical training.
Planning tasks were done badly or not at all. Because it placed reinforcement and resupply of ground forces at the mercy of the weather, the decision to make only one drop per aircraft on September 17 was "disastrous" in the words of the United States Army's historical study of the operation. Communications planning was poor, and the 1st Airborne Division would be out of touch with most other headquarters for most of the battle. No arrangements were made for close air support. The drops were scheduled to occur from south to north to aid the ground-based northward advance of XXX Corps from the Belgian border; this gave the Germans early warning of possible operations to seize bridges across the Waal and Rhine, critically reducing the time available to the northernmost Allied airborne units at Arnhem to capture the Rhine bridge before they would be attacked.
Gavin, commanding the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, was skeptical of the plan. In his diary he wrote, "It looks very rough. If I get through this one I will be very lucky." He was also highly critical of Browning, writing that he "...unquestionably lacks the standing, influence and judgment that comes from a proper troop experience... his staff was superficial... Why the British units fumble along... becomes more and more apparent. Their tops lack the know-how, never do they get down into the dirt and learn the hard way.
Operation Market Garden opened with Allied success all around. In the first landing, almost all troops arrived on top of their drop zones without incident. In the 82nd Airborne Division, 89% of troops landed on or within 1,000 meters (1000 yards) of their correct drop zones, and 84% of gliders landed on or within 1,000 meters (1,000 yards) of their landing zones. This contrasted with previous operations where night drops had resulted in units being scattered by up to 19 km (12 miles). Losses to enemy aircraft and flak were light; German flak was described in reports as "heavy but inaccurate".
In the south the 101st met little resistance and captured four of five bridges. The bridge at Son was blown up as they approached it, after being delayed by a short engagement with a German Flak 88mm Anti-aircraft gun and a machine gun. Later that day several small attacks by the German 59th Infantry Division (a 15th Army unit that had escaped across the South Beveland isthmus because of the failure of XXX Corps to seal it off) were beaten off, while small units of the 101st had moved south of Son.
To their north the 82nd arrived, and the small group dropped near Grave took the bridge in a rush. They also succeeded in capturing one of the vitally important bridges over the Maas-Waal canal, the lock-bridge at Heumen. The main effort of the 82nd was to seize the Groesbeek Heights and set up a blocking position there, to prevent a German armour attack out of the nearby Reichswald (a forest in Germany, near the border) and to deny the Heights to German artillery observers. Both Gavin and Browning felt this must be the Division's priority. The 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment was tasked with taking the 600 meters (600 yards) long Nijmegen highway bridge if possible, but because of miscommunication they did not start until late in the day. Had they attacked earlier they would have faced only a dozen Germans. By the time the 508th attacked, troops of the 9th SS Reconnaissance Battalion were arriving. The attack was stopped, leaving the Nijmegen bridge in German hands.
This was vital. Unlike some of the bridges to the south, which were over smaller rivers and canals that could be bridged by engineering units, the Nijmegen and Arnhem bridges crossed two arms of the Rhine that could not be bridged easily. If either of the Nijmegen or Arnhem bridges were not captured and held, the advance of XXX Corps would be blocked and Operation Market Garden would fail.
The 1st Airborne Division landed without major incident, but problems associated with the poor plan began almost immediately. Only half of the Division arrived with the First Lift, and only half of these, the 1st Parachute Brigade, could advance on the bridge. The remaining troops had to defend the drop zones overnight awaiting the arrival of the Second Lift on the following day. Thus the Division's primary objective had to be tackled by less than a half brigade. While the paratroopers marched eastwards to Arnhem, the Reconnaissance Squadron was to race to the bridge in their jeeps and hold it until the rest of the Brigade arrived. The unit set off to the bridge late, and having travelled only a short distance the vanguard was halted by a strong German defensive position; the squadron could make no further progress.
This had grave consequences. Five hours after the initial landing, feeling that the British were tied down in Arnhem, the Reconnaissance Battalion of the 9th Waffen-SS Panzer Division was able to cross the Arnhem bridge and drive to Nijmegen and the bridge over the Waal branch of the Rhine. No British airborne unit was at this bridge.
Two of the three battalions of the 1st Parachute Brigade were slowed down by small German units of a training battalion which had quickly established a thin blocking line covering the obvious routes into Arnhem. Lieutenant-Colonel John Frost's 2nd Battalion, which was advancing eastwards along the southernmost road into Arnhem, near the Rhine, found its route largely undefended. They arrived at the bridge in the evening and set up defensive positions at the north end. Two attempts to capture the arched steel bridge and its southern approach were unsuccessful. Of the other battalions, the 3rd had only covered half the distance to the bridge when they halted for the night, the rear of their column being under attack and needing time to catch up. The 1st Battalion was similarly fragmented, yet pushed on around the flank of the German line throughout the night. Frequent skirmishes resulted in their making little more progress.
The only means of calling for close air support was through two special American units dropped with the 1st Airborne Division. These units were equipped with "Veeps": jeeps having Very High Frequency SCR-193 crystal sets. It was found impossible to communicate with aircraft on the higher of two frequencies allocated for this purpose, and the sets could not be tuned to the lower frequency. Despite efforts to re-tune them, the sets were soon destroyed by mortar fire, cutting the 1st Airborne's only possible link with RAF fighter-bombers. The pilots were under orders not to attack on their own initiative since from the air there was no easy way to distinguish friend from foe. Together with poor weather, this led to a critical lack of air support.
The advance was lead by tanks and infantry of the Irish Guards and started on time when Lieutenant Keith Heathcote, commanding the lead tank, ordered his driver to advance. The lead units of the Irish Guards Group had broken out of XXX Corps bridgehead on the Meuse-Escaut canal and crossed into the Netherlands by 1500 hours. After crossing the border the Irish Guards were ambushed by infantry and anti-tank guns dug in on both sides of the main road. Portions of the artillery barrage was refired and fresh waves of Hawker Typhoons were called in. The Guardsmen moved forward to clear the German positions, manned by elements from two German parachute battalions and two battalions of the 9SS Division, and soon routed the German forces flanking the road. Interrogation of captured German soldiers led to some of them willingly, others after being threatened, pointing out the remaining German positions. The fighting soon died down and the advance resumed. By last light the town of Valkenswaard had been reached and occupied the Irish Guards Group.
Horrocks had expected that the Irish Guards would have been able to advance the to Eindhoven within two-three hours, however they had only covered . The operation was already starting to fall behind schedule. In Valkenswaard engineers were moved up to construct a Class 40 Bailey bridge over a stream, which was completed within 12 hours.
The 1st and 3rd Parachute Battalions pushed towards the Arnhem bridge during the early hours of 18 September and made good progress, but they were frequently halted in skirmishes as soon as it became light. With their long and unwieldy columns having to halt to beat off attacks whilst the troops in front carried on unaware, the Germans would delay segments of the two battalions, fragment them, and mop up the remnants.
Early in the day the 9th SS Reconnaissance Battalion, sent south the day before, concluded it was not needed in Nijmegen and returned to Arnhem. Though aware of the British troops at the bridge, it attempted to cross by force and was beaten back with heavy losses, including its commanding officer, SS-Hauptsturmführer Paul Gräbner.
By the end of the day the 1st and 3rd Parachute Battalions had entered Arnhem, and were within 2 km (1 mile) of the bridge with approximately 200 men, one-sixth their original strength. Most of the officers and non-commissioned officers had been killed, wounded, or captured. The Second Lift, delayed by fog and jumping onto a landing zone under heavy attack, landed at full strength (the 4th Parachute Brigade, consisting of the 10th, 11th and 156th Battalions of the Parachute Regiment, commanded by Brigadier-General John Winthrop Hackett) and C and D Companies of the 2nd South Staffordshire Regiment.
Grave proved to be well defended, and German forces continued to press on the 82nd deployed on the Groesbeek heights to the east of Nijmegen. The 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment defended successfully against German attacks in Horst, Grafwegen, and Riethorst. Early in the day, German counterattacks seized one of the Allied landing zones, where the Second Lift was scheduled to arrive at 13:00. The 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment attacked at 13:10 and cleared the LZ by 14:00, capturing 16 German flak pieces and 149 prisoners. Delayed by weather in Britain, the Second Lift did not arrive until 15:30. This lift brought in elements of the 319th and 320th Glider Field Artillery battalions, the 456th Parachute Field Artillery battalion, and medical support elements. Twenty minutes later, 135 B-24 bombers dropped supplies from low level (100 ), 80% of which were recovered.
Faced with the loss of the bridge at Son, the 101st unsuccessfully attempted to capture a similar bridge a few kilometers away at Best, finding the approach blocked. Other units continued moving to the south and eventually reached the northern end of Eindhoven. At about noon they were met by reconnaissance units from XXX Corps. At 16:00 they made radio contact with the main force to the south and told them about the Son bridge, asking for a Bailey bridge to be brought forward. XXX Corps passed through Eindhoven and bivouacked south of Son, where they waited for the Royal Engineers to erect the Bailey bridge.
At the end of two days the XXX Corps advance was behind schedule, and the Nijmegen and Arnhem bridges were still in German hands.
The 2nd Battalion and attached units, by now amounting to approximately 600 men, were still in firm control of the northern approach ramp to the Arnhem bridge. The Germans recognised that they would not be moved by infantry attacks such as those that had been bloodily repulsed on the previous day, so instead they heavily shelled the short British perimeter with mortars, artillery, and tanks, systematically demolishing each house to enable their infantry to exploit gaps and dislodge the defenders. Although in constant, heavy battle against enormous odds, the British clung fiercely to their positions and the perimeter remained largely unaltered.
The parachute elements of the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade had remained in England because of dense fog. Their gliders, however, mainly carrying anti-tank guns and vehicles, were able to take off but had the misfortune to arrive above the landing zone just as the 4th Parachute Brigade was retreating across it, and the gliders came under fire from German units pursuing the Brigade.
The 1st and 5th battalions, Coldstream Guards, were attached to the division. A resupply attempt by 35 C-47s (out of 60 sent) was unsuccessful; the supplies were dropped from a high altitude and could not be recovered.
The Germans overcame remaining pockets of resistance throughout the day, gaining control of the northern bridge approaches and permitting reinforcements to cross the span and reinforce units further south near Nijmegen. The remaining British troops continued to fight on fiercely, some with just fighting knives, but by early Thursday morning almost all had been taken prisoner. The last radio message broadcast from the bridge - "Out of ammo, God save the King" - was heard only by German radio intercept operators.
While it was estimated that the entire 1st Airborne Division, 10,000 strong, would only need to hold the Arnhem bridge for two days, in fact just 740 had held it for twice as long against far heavier opposition than anticipated. While 81 British soldiers died defending Arnhem bridge, German losses cannot be stated with any accuracy, though they were certainly extremely heavy; 11 units known to have participated in the fighting reported 50% casualties after the battle. In memory of the fighting there, the bridge has been renamed the "John Frost Bridge".
In the woods to the west of Oosterbeek, the 4th Parachute Brigade was fighting its way towards the divisional perimeter but was under severe attack from German troops, supported by artillery, mortars, and tanks (some mounting flame-throwers). Their casualties were heavy; the 10th Battalion reached Oosterbeek in the early afternoon but with only 60 men.
Further in the rear, the 156th Parachute Battalion was being more hard pressed and was forced to fight off numerous enemy attacks before mounting counter-attacks of their own; indeed it is a credit to the battalion that they were so successful in these respects that the Germans did not know they were fighting men who were in full retreat. The battalion, down to 150 men, mounted a desperate bayonet charge to capture a hollow in the ground in the woods, in which they remained pinned by enemy attacks for the next eight hours. Towards the end of the day the 75 men who could, fixed bayonets and made a highly successful break through the German lines, and so retreated into the Allied pocket at Oosterbeek.
To the east, German attacks on the heights made significant progress, capturing the only remaining bridge suitable for tanks. A counterattack at Mook by elements of the 505th PIR and 4th Battalion, the Coldstream Guards, forced the Germans back to their line of departure by 20:00. However, the 508th PIR lost ground at Im Thal and Legewald when attacked by German infantry and tanks. By now it was evident that the Germans' plan was to cut the highway, which would split up the Airborne units and cut off the advance elements of XXX Corps.
To the south the running battles between the 101st and various German units continued. Eventually several Panther tanks managed to cut the roads, but pulled back when low on ammunition.
When Lieutenant-General Dempsey of the Second Army met Brigadier General Gavin, commander of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, he is reported to have said (in reference to the Nijmegen attack), "I am proud to meet the commander of the greatest Division in the world today."
A resupply attempt by RAF Stirlings of 38 Group was disrupted by the only effective Luftwaffe fighter interception during the entire operation. Fw 190s intercepted the Stirlings at low altitude and shot down 7 of one line of 10, and 15 overall. Anti-aircraft fire accounted for 8 further losses. The Fw 190s were able to penetrate the screen of Allied fighters sent to cover the drop when one group, the U.S. 56th Fighter Group, was late in arriving in its patrol sector between Lochem and Deventer. The 56th, however, did redeem itself to an extent by shooting down 15 of the 22 Fw 190s as they departed the area.
Planning to use the Heveadorp ferry to reinforce the division, they soon discovered that the opposite bank was dominated by the enemy and that the ferry was missing; it was later found downstream past the road bridge, unserviceable. Unable to help the British, the Polish withdrew to Driel for the night. The 1st Airborne Division made radio contact during the day with guns of the 64th Medium Regiment of XXX Corps Artillery which had advanced with the ground forces and were assigned to provide the division with artillery support. Unlike many others, this radio link endured throughout the battle and the regiment provided valuable fire support to the division.
The delay enabled the Germans to considerably shore up their defences to the south of Arnhem, aided by use of the bridge following their capture of its northern end. The advance of the Guards, hindered by marshes that prevented off-road movement, was soon halted by a firm German defensive line. The Guards not having the strength to outflank it, the 43rd Division was ordered to take over the lead, work its way around the enemy positions and make contact with the Polish at Driel. However, the 43rd was 30 km (20 miles) away and there was a traffic jam between it and Nijmegen. It was not until the following day, Friday, that the whole division finally crossed the River Waal and began its advance.
The Germans, clearly starting to gain the upper hand, continued their counterattacks all along the path of XXX Corps, although the Corps still managed to advance and the 101st Airborne Division continued to exploit its gains.
At about 15:00, 406 C-47 glider tugs and 33 C-47 cargo carriers executed a resupply mission for the 82nd Airborne Division. About 60% of the supplies were recovered (351 of the gliders were counted effective), partly with the help of Dutch civilians. Most of the 82nd and 101st, reinforced with British armour units, were engaged in defensive missions with the objective of holding the highway corridor. Small attacks were fought all along the corridor.
While much of the corridor along "Hell's Highway" was firmly in Allied hands, German counterattacks were still being mounted along its length. During the previous night, two mixed armoured formations on either side of Highway 69 attacked between Veghel and Grave; one group managed to cut the highway and prevent any further advance to Arnhem.
To the south several more German attacks from their position astride the road were stopped, but the road was still cut. XXX Corps then sent a unit of the Guards Armoured Division 19 km (12 miles) south and re-took the road. The rest of the force to the north continued to wait for infantry to move up, still only a few kilometers south of Arnhem.
At dawn, the 1st Airborne Division received their orders to withdraw across the Rhine. This could not be effected until nightfall, and in the meantime the division struggled to survive. In a departure from their cautious, attritional tactics of the previous days, the Germans formed two potent SS battlegroups and made a significant thrust along a narrow front in the eastern sector. This succeeded in breaking through the thin front line, and for a time the division was in peril. However, the attack met with increasing resistance as it pushed deeper into the British lines, and was finally broken up by a heavy bombardment of the 64th Medium Regiment.
Employing every ruse to give the Germans the impression that their positions were unchanged, the 1st Airborne Division began its withdrawal at 22:00. British and Canadian engineer units ferried the troops across the Rhine, covered by the Polish 3rd Parachute Battalion on the north bank. By early the next morning they had withdrawn 2,398 survivors, leaving 300 men to surrender on the north bank at first light, when German fire prevented their rescue. Of approximately 10,600 men of the 1st Airborne Division and other units who fought north of the Rhine, 1,485 had died and 6,414 were taken prisoner, of whom one third were wounded.
To the south the newly-arrived 50th (Northumbrian) Division attacked the Germans holding the highway, and secured it by the next day. Allied positions in the Nijmegen Salient, as it came to be known, were manned throughout the rest of September and October by airborne units, then handed over to the First Canadian Army in November 1944 and remained unchanged until February 1945 when Operation Veritable was launched on the Rhineland, advancing east instead of north towards Arnhem.
|Dutch civilians||Less than 500||Less than 500|
|British and Polish||11,588–13,226||15,130–17,200|
Operation Market Garden led to high losses in the elite Allied Airborne units. After the offensive operation was called off, these light units were left holding defensive positions, a role for which they were not equipped. The frontage held by Allied forces along their northwestern front in the Low Countries also doubled, making it difficult to mass forces for vital offensive operations in the area that took place in late 1944, such as the Battle of the Scheldt and Operation Aintree. In order to accomplish these two simultaneous offensives and make up for the heavy casualties that had been sustained during Operation Market Garden, troops were brought in from the front near Aachen and from the Ardennes. The Germans exploited the thin Allied presence in the Ardennes in December 1944 by launching the Ardennes offensive, which resulted in the Battle of the Bulge.
Other results from the optimistic planning which were factors for the failure at Arnhem were.
Among the controversial aspects of the plan was the necessity of all the major bridges being taken in order for success. Little contingency had been made in the event of blown bridges along the route. The terrain was also ill-suited for the mission of XXX Corps. It is therefore surprising in retrospect that the plans placed so little emphasis on capturing the important bridges immediately with forces dropped directly on them. In the case of Veghel and Grave, where this was done, the bridges were captured with only a few shots being fired. The decision to drop the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division on the Groesbeek Heights, several kilometers from the Nijmegen Bridge, has been questioned, because it resulted in a critical delay of the capture of the span. Brereton had ordered that the bridges along XXX Corps' route should be captured with "thunderclap surprise". Both Browning and Gavin considered holding a defensive blocking position on the ridge a prerequisite for holding the highway corridor.
Gavin generally favoured accepting the higher initial casualties involved in dropping as close to objectives as possible in the belief that distant drop zones would result in lower chances of success. However, in this case, with the 82nd responsible for holding the centre of the salient, he and Browning decided the ridge must take priority. Combined with the 1st Airborne Division's delays within Arnhem, which left the Arnhem bridge open to their traffic, the Germans were given vital hours to reinforce their hold on the bridge.
The actions of XXX Corps have also been questioned. Their advance was characterized by what was widely perceived, at the time, as a lack of drive. For example, XXX Corps did not jump off until mid-afternoon of the first day and were delayed by pockets of German resistance and the need for engineers to replace the bridge destroyed at Son. They arrived at Nijmegen on September 19 when the plan called for them to be in Arnhem by that afternoon. Their major unexpected delay arose from the need to support the 82nd's assaults on Nijmegen and its bridges. After the river had been crossed, the Guards allegedly waited 18 hours to resume their advance; in the words of Colonel Reuben Tucker (commander of the 504th) the Guards "...stopped for tea". While not literally true (and misunderstanding the habit of British soldiers to "brew-up" in any circumstances - a tradition continued to this day in the British Army), Tucker's statement summed up the view some U.S. troops had of the XXX Corps units. Ridgway added that he was "much dissatisfied with the apathy and lack of aggressiveness of the British forces".
The commander of XXX Corps advocated another course of action. About 25 km (16 miles) to the west was another bridge similar to Arnhem, at Rhenen, which he predicted would be undefended because of all the efforts being directed on Oosterbeek. This was in fact the case, but the corps was never authorised to take the bridge; if they had, it is almost certain they would have crossed unopposed into the rear of the German lines. By this time, it appears that Montgomery was more concerned with the ongoing German assaults on Market Garden's lengthy 'tail'.
Despite the heroism, bad choices were made throughout, and opportunities were ignored. The commander of the Glider Pilot Regiment had asked for a small force with gliders to land on the southern side of the bridge at Arnhem to quickly capture it, but he was denied. This was surprising in light of the fact that in Normandy, the British 6th Airborne Division had used such coup-de-main tactics successfully to take smaller bridges. In Britain, the commander of the British 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division, whose troops were slated to fly into a captured airfield, pleaded with his superiors to allow a brigade to fly in with gliders to assist Major-General Urquhart's trapped forces; this was also denied, though under the circumstances probably sensibly, as glider landings on undefended landing zones before the eyes of an alert enemy could have resulted in catastrophe. However, there was another airfield near Grave, and if the 52nd Lowland had been landed there, they might have freed up British units supporting the 82nd Airborne, and might have allowed them to reach Arnhem sooner. Polish 1st Parachute Brigade commander Major-General Stanisław Sosabowski was prepared to try a dangerous drop through the fog which held up his deployment but again was refused.
The Dutch resistance was ignored by the British forces at Arnhem, although they worked with the U.S. airborne divisions. There was a very good reason for this: Britain's spy network in the Netherlands had been thoroughly and famously compromised — the so-called England game, which had only been discovered in April 1944. Perhaps assuming that the Dutch resistance would be similarly penetrated, British intelligence took pains to minimise all civilian contact. U.S. units, without this bad experience, made active use of Dutch help. As things turned out, the simple knowledge of the Driel ferry, or of the underground's secret telephone network could have changed the outcome of the operation, especially since Allied radio equipment was malfunctioning, having to rely on messengers. The latter was very important: it would have given the XXX Corps and Airborne High Command knowledge about the dire situation at Arnhem.
After the war, claims arose that the Dutch resistance had indeed been penetrated. One high-ranking Dutch counterintelligence officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Oreste Pinto, published a popular book, Spy Catcher, part-memoir and part counterintelligence handbook. In it, he claimed that one of the leading figures in the Dutch resistance, Christiaan Lindemans ("King Kong" to his men) had been a German agent and had betrayed Operation Market Garden to the Germans. Lindemans was arrested in October 1944, but committed suicide in his cell in 1946 while still awaiting trial. In 1969, French journalist and historian Anne Laurens concluded that Lindemans had been a double agent.
Market Garden was a very high-risk plan that required a willingness to take risks at the tactical, small-unit level. Unfortunately, the detailed planning and leadership required at that level was not always present. The 1st Airborne Division, the least experienced working as a whole division, was given the most difficult, distant objective. XXX Corps was also criticized for its inability to keep to the operation's timetable. Its lead unit, the Guards Armoured Division, was led by a commander (Allan Adair) whom Montgomery had sought to remove prior to D-Day. This action was blocked due to Adair's popularity. Gavin regretted giving his division's most critical tasks (Groesbeek ridge and Nijmegen) to the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment rather than his best regiment, Tucker's 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
For his part, Montgomery called Market Garden "90% successful" and said:
American General Dwight Eisenhower was full of praise for the airborne troops. He said, 'There has been no single performance by any unit that has more greatly inspired me or more excited my admiration than the nine day action by the 1st British Parachute Division between 17th and 25th September'.
After Operation Market Garden failed to establish a bridgehead across the Rhine, Allied forces were forced to launch offensives on two fronts in the south of the Netherlands at the same time. To secure shipping to the vital port of Antwerp they advanced northwards and westwards, taking the Scheldt estuary in the Battle of the Scheldt. Allied forces also advanced eastwards in Operation Aintree in order to secure the banks of the river Meuse as a natural boundary for the established salient. This attack on the German bridgehead west of the Meuse near Venlo was for the Allies an unexpectedly protracted affair, which included the Battle of Overloon.
In February 1945, Allied forces in Operation Veritable advanced from the Groesbeek heights which had been taken during Market Garden, and into Germany, crossing the Rhine in March during Operation Plunder. However, the Allied forces had by then shifted to a broad front strategy, having crossed the Rhine days earlier much further south at Remagen and at Oppenheim. As a result of Operation Plunder, the city of Arnhem was finally liberated by I Canadian Corps on 14 April 1945 after two days of fighting. A surrender of the remaining German forces in the west of the Netherlands was signed on May 5.
The prized Arnhem bridge did not survive the war due to the fact that a flight of Allied bombers destroyed it to prevent the Germans from using it to bring reinforcements to the battle. It was replaced with a bridge of similar appearance after the war and was renamed John Frostbrug ("John Frost Bridge") for Colonel Frost in September 1978.
A memorial near Arnhem reads: "To the People of Gelderland; 50 years ago British and Polish Airborne soldiers fought here against overwhelming odds to open the way into Germany and bring the war to an early end. Instead we brought death and destruction for which you have never blamed us. This stone marks our admiration for your great courage remembering especially the women who tended our wounded. In the long winter that followed your families risked death by hiding Allied soldiers and Airmen while members of the resistance led many to safety."
On September 16, 1994, 101st Airborne veterans revealed a war monument 'Monument for the Dutch' in Sint-Oedenrode. The monument is a gift from the veterans to the civilians who fought alongside of the U.S. troops, much to the surprise and relief of the U.S. soldiers. The inscription on the monument is in English and reads "Dedicated to the people of the Corridor by the veterans of the 101st Airborne Division, in grateful appreciation of their courage, compassion and friendship".
On May 31, 2006, Polish 1st Independent Airborne Brigade was awarded the Dutch Military William Order by HM Queen Beatrix for gallantry at Arnhem during Operation Market Garden in 1944 (the American 82nd Airborne Division was also awarded the same order for gallantry during this operation).
The operation is also memorialized at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, home of the 82nd Airborne Division. Each of the major drop zones on the post is named for a major WW2 jump; the Holland, Nijmegen, and Netherlands Drop Zones commemorate Operation Market Garden.
Several museums in the Netherlands are dedicated to Operation Market Garden, including: National Liberation Museum in Groesbeek, Wings of Liberation Museum Park in Schijndel and Airborne Museum Hartenstein in Oosterbeek.
Operation Market Garden was the subject of the 1977 epic film A Bridge Too Far. Dramatisations of some of the 101st Airborne Division's actions during the battle can be seen in the HBO mini-series Band of Brothers.
The 1997 tactics game Close Combat: A Bridge Too Far is centered entirely around Operation Market Garden. It also contains historical references in its help files, as well as historical video footage in the game during campaign play.
The video game Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway retells part of the story of Operation Market Garden from the perspective of soldiers in the 502nd PIR of the 101st Airborne.
Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts features a campaign around Operation Market Garden from the perspective of German Panzer and infantry divisions.